The best and final gift of the gospel is that we gain Christ. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8). This is the all-encompassing gift of God’s love through the gospel – to see and savor the glory of Christ forever.
In place of this, we have turned the love of God and the gospel of Christ into a divine endorsement of our delight in many lesser things, especially the delight in our being made much of. The acid test of biblical God-centeredness – and faithfulness to the gospel – is this: Do you feel more loved because God makes much of you, or because, at the cost of his Son, he enables you to enjoy making much of him forever? Does your happiness hang on seeing the cross of Christ as a witness to your worth, or as a way to enjoy God’s worth forever? Is God’s glory in Christ the foundation of your gladness?
From the first sin in the Garden of Eden to the final judgment of the great white throne, human beings will continue to embrace the love of God as the gift of everything but himself. Indeed there are ten thousand gifts that flow from the love of God. The gospel of Christ proclaims the news that he has purchased by his death ten thousand blessings for his bride. But none of these gifts will lead to final joy if they have not first led to God. And not one gospel blessing will be enjoyed by anyone for whom the gospel’s greatest gift was not the Lord himself. (John Piper in God Is The Gospel)
“The gospel content is this: Christ saves sinners. The implications of the gospel include changed lives, lives lived in holiness unto God. The great news is that the gospel content powers what it implies! Grace is the power in which we stand and by which we are being saved (1 Cor. 15:1-2). Yes, we are to work out our own salvation, but the Spiritual reality is that it is God who is in us doing the work (Phil. 2:12-13). The gospel is not just power for regeneration; it is power for sanctification, and for glorification. It is eternal power; it is power enough for life that is eternal.” (Jared Wilson in Gospel Wakefulness)
Worship is the glorifying of God, the making much of him, the magnifying of him so that he increases in coordination with our decrease.
Jesus tells his disciples that their good works should be lights shined on God (Matt. 5:16), meant to illuminate him for the benefit of those in the darkness, showing them the way out. The only way our good works will work this way – to repeat, the only way – is if our good works are acts of worship. This means our good works must be our response to the finished good work of Christ. If our good works are viewed as currency to exchange for the good work of Christ, they will be seen by the lost not as illuminating God’s goodness but illuminating ours.
Good works as worship are acts of thankfulness and joy. Good works as merit are acts of leverage and bribery. They do not magnify the God of free grace but make him appear like a loan officer. And God is not accepting applications for service; he is redeeming captives who then gratefully serve him of their own free(d) will. We invite the Spirit’s filling with our good works as we “sow to the Spirit” (Gal. 6:8), but we do not earn him with them. (Jared Wilson in Gospel Wakefulness)
“The gospel must be central to our Christian lives; it is not the ABC’s of spiritual growth, but the A to Z. The problem prior to gospel wakefulness is that we do not see how the gospel can sustain such energies, such longevity. We see it as an entry fee, an insurance certificate. But the gospel is daily bread. It is robust and resilient enough to sustain not just for all of life, but for all eternity. The gospel is the antidote for the human predicament, for all of humanity itself.” (Jared Wilson in Gospel Wakefulness)
If you have been in ministry for very long you have dealt with discouragement. The reasons are numerous: someone recently left the church, you were slandered, the sermon didn’t go like you though it would, attendance was down, etc. What do we do when we are smack dab in the middle of discouragement? How do we cope? I have found that reminding myself of these four truths helps in these moments:
1. You are who the gospel says you are. We must remember that we are children of God before we are pastors. We are recipients of amazing grace before we are dispensers of that grace to our people. So, who are we according to the gospel? We are perfectly righteous because of Christ’s righteousness. We are loved. We have worth because of what God says about us, not what the world says about us. Our value is not based on the size of our church; it is based on Christ’s value.
I find it easy to remind my people who they are in Christ but I struggle to listen to and apply gospel truth in my own life. Paul Tripp said, “No one is more influential in your life than you are. Because no one talks to you more than you do.” What do you tell yourself? Pastor, do you remind yourself who you are in Christ?
2. You are not alone. I tend to think that I am the only pastor who struggles with discouragement but Scripture quickly reminds me that this is not the case. After Elijah had called fire down from heaven and destroyed the prophets of Baal (a ministry high no doubt) we see him utter these words the next day: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” Did you catch that? Elijah was so discouraged that he asked God to kill him.
One of my ministry heroes, Charles Spurgeon, often struggled with depression. He wrote: “Fits of depression come over the most of us. Usually cheerful as we may be, we must at intervals be cast down. The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy.” Often we think those who God used mightily never struggled. We are under the illusion that they had it all together and never faced discouragement. The opposite is the case. It is so helpful to remember that we are not alone as we face these things!
3. You are under attack. Spiritual warfare is real and pastors are on the front line of the battle. Satan is no dummy. Here is his logic: “If I can knock of the shepherd the sheep will scatter.” He employs a number of strategies to accomplish this mission of sidelining pastors. We see pastor’s fall for any number of reasons: addiction to pornography, affairs, financial improprieties, pride, etc. I think one of the slickest ways Satan attacks pastors is to encourage them to make their ministry an idol. Many of us, if we boil it all down, worship our ministry more than we worship Jesus. It has become our idol.
There is only one thing to do when you are under attack… prepare for the battle. Paul wrote: “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Ephesians 6:11-18). Are you preparing for the battle daily?
4. You are called to faithfulness. Paul knew this and reminded the church in Corinth of this reality: “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor” (1 Corinthians 3:5-8).
Maybe this will lift a burden – God does not hold you accountable for whether or not the church grows. He holds pastors accountable for our labor, our faithfulness to preach the Word and minister to the people. The words we should long to hear from the Lord are these: “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:23).Be faithful and leave the results up to him!
Let me say up front that this post may upset you, though that is certainly not my intent. I love our country. We are a privileged people to live in the good ol’ US of A! But, as believers, our ultimate allegiance is not to this country. Our ultimate allegiance is to our Savior and his kingdom.
We are witnessing a major shift in our society. As a student of history, I know without a doubt that our country was founded on Christian principles. It is impossible to study our founding fathers without encountering within their writings a Judeo-Christian mindset concerning government and morality. Some were not believers (this is well documented – just look at the Thomas Jefferson bible) but even the founding fathers who were non-believers argued that the best form of government and society would follow biblical principles. The shift is towards an increasingly secular society. Believers, who were in the majority for much of our nation’s history, have increasingly become the minority on social issues.
Here is what I believe we will see in the coming years unless something changes dramatically:
1. Same sex marriage will be legalized in all 50 states. This week President Obama (who originally personally opposed same sex marriage and then changed to personally agreeing with same sex marriage) has declared that he believes same sex marriage should be legal in all 50 states. Recently, the Supreme Court decided not to take up this issue thereby upholding a lower court’s ruling that same sex marriage was legal in certain states. Currently 24 states and the District of Columbia allow same sex marriage while 26 states have laws against same sex marriage. At some point the justices will have to rule on this issue and I personally believe they or Congress (through enacting a federal law) will make same sex marriage legal across our nation which is approved of by the majority of Americans.
2. Christian businesses will choose to close their doors or face lawsuits, fines and jail time. This week a couple in Idaho who run a for-profit wedding chapel were told that they must conduct same sex weddings or face fines and possible jail time due to violating non-discrimination laws (this previously happened with a baker, florist, and photographer). In my opinion, the courts will rule that the wedding ceremony must be allowed to happen at the chapel but the Knapps will be able to recuse themselves (because of religious conviction) from performing the ceremony. Another person (licensed to perform marriages and who does not have this religious conviction concerning same sex marriage) will be brought in to conduct the ceremony. Christian businesses (bakery, florist, wedding chapel, etc.) operating in the secular marketplace will be increasingly required to abide by secular laws. They can stand up against these laws because of religious conviction but will likely face lawsuits, fines and jail time.
3. Pastors will be removed as agents of the state in regards to performing weddings. Currently ordained pastors operate as agents of the state when it comes to conducting wedding ceremonies. This is why at the end of a wedding service a pastor will say, “By the authority invested in my by the state of ______________, I now pronounce you husband and wife.” While churches are exempt from non-discrimination laws currently with regards to marriage, I believe this will be the next thing challenged. The argument will be made that ordained pastors, as agents of the state, must abide by state laws regardless of religious conviction. The likely result will be that pastors will not be able to act as representatives of the state. They will be able to do Christian weddings in the church but the couple would then need to go to the court to be officially married in the eyes of the state.
Here is how I think we should respond:
1. Pray. Unfortunately, prayer is often thought of as a last result. We attempt to do things to affect change until we feel like there is nothing else we can do…then we pray. Our temptation in this society will be to busy ourselves doing things and fail to pray. However, prayer should be our first response – we need to hit our knees! We need to ask God to move in a powerful way in our churches and in our culture. We should intercede for those lost in their sin. We need to ask God to search our hearts and our motives. Prayer is not the spare tire in our lives; it must be the steering wheel that drives our lives.
2. We, as believers, should seek to defend our religious liberties both in the ballot box and in the courts. We do not need to bow down and retreat at this point. We need to take a stand through both the courts and the ballot box. I believe religious freedoms need to be preserved. Dietrich Bonhoeffer sums up our responsibility, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” We cannot and must not remain silent as religious liberties are stripped away. Houston has given us a glimpse of what is to come and we must be prepared to stand together.
3. Recognize that God may be allowing persecution to come so that his church would be purified and more effective in reaching people with the gospel. I have been preaching through the book of Habakkuk recently. Interestingly, Habakkuk begins the book asking why God has failed to turn His people’s hearts back to him and bring revival. God responds that he is at work but it will not be what Habakkuk expects (God will bring in the Chaldeans to take Judah captive and lead them into exile). He then tells Habakkuk “the just will live by their faith.”
Have you considered that God might be allowing persecution to come upon the church to purify it (when it costs to follow Christ, you find out who the true believers are)? Could it be that this world needs to grow darker so that the light of the gospel can more effectively shine through the church? Throughout church history, the gospel has exploded when Christians were persecuted. We, as believers, are called to live by faith…trusting God is at work to bring about his glory and our good regardless of what happens around us!